Blooming Abutilon a sight to behold!
Published: Saturday, August 10, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 10:35 a.m.
Q: I had a plant that I can't identify in my yard. It has orange flowers that hang down like bells, and leaves that look like maple leaves. It is a bush that is about 6 to 7 feet tall. Do you know what this is?
A: The plant you are describing must be the flowering maple, or an Abutilon. They are not a maple at all, but a close cousin to hibiscus. The evergreen leaves are shaped like a maple, and that resemblance gave the Abutilon its common name. Abutilons grow in USDA hardiness zones 8, 9 and 10, so they will grow well just about anywhere in Florida. They perform best in partial sun in improved, well-drained soil, and are quite drought-tolerant once established. Flowers of Abutilon range from yellow to red/orange, pink and white. The blooms are shaped like a bell or Chinese lantern, and some cultivars have flowers that open like a saucer. Gardeners in North Central Florida have found them quite cold-tolerant into the low 30s, but they would need to be protected from extended hard freezes.
The most common tall cultivar is Abutilon hybridum "Marion Stewart." It forms a small tree that has gorgeous 2-inch orange bell flowers with dramatic red veining. These flowers are very popular with hummingbirds. This variety does well in sunny areas, and sometimes needs to be pruned to promote a bushy growth habit.
Another favorite type is Abutilon megapotamicum. It is a smaller bush, with flowers that have yellow petals emerging from a red calyx and purple anthers hanging past the tip of the bell. What a sight to behold. Use this plant in a container so you can keep the flower show close to the house.
For more information about Abutilons and other Florida-friendly plants, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County Master Gardeners at 955-2402.
Q: I had my vegetable garden soil tested. Everything is within healthy parameters, except the potassium levels were low. Is there an organic way to add potassium?
A: Potassium is an important macro element in your garden soil. It is required for root growth, plant metabolism and to improve stress tolerance in plants. Many organic gardeners add wood ash to the garden to bring up the available potassium or potash in the soil. Wood ash will have a liming effect on soil, and too much will increase pH beyond the ideal of 6.5. You can add wood ash in small amounts to your compost pile, and then add the composted soil to the garden with good results.
Another option to increase your pH is a soil amendment called greensand. Greensand is a naturally occurring material that contains the minerals glaucite and iron potassium silicate. Greensand contains 5 to 7 percent potassium. These marine sands have been mined in New Jersey, but most of what we can get now comes from Texas.
Add up to 4 pounds of greensand per 1,000 square feet of garden soil. It will provide the needed potassium and help the water-holding capacity of the soil. Check with local nurseries for availability of greensand. You may have to order it from an online provider.
Wendy Wilber is an extension agent with UF/IFAS. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.